28 April 2009
Charities call for amendment to Equalities Bill
A group of charities has called for amendments to be made to the recently-published Equalities Bill in order to reduce the discrimination faced by employment seekers with 'invisible' conditions, such as HIV or mental illness.
HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, the National AIDS Trust (NAT) and mental health charity Rethink have come together to lobby the government on the issue.
The organisations want to see health-related questions banned until after a job offer has been made, although questions directly related to the position applied for would be exempt from this.
At present, employers can ask candidates whether they have a disability, are taking medication or have a medical condition, even if these questions have no relevance to the role.
This, the charities say, amounts to a "licence to discriminate".
NAT chief executive Deborah Jack said: "In a difficult economic climate and with a reformed benefits system it is more important than ever to remove the discrimination which prevents so many with disabilities from entering paid employment.
The Equalities Bill is expected to come into force by autumn next year.
Kiran Daurka, employment solicitor at Russell Jones & Walker, commented: "Conditions which are 'unseen', such as mental health conditions or HIV, are often misunderstood and are surrounded by stigma.
"Individuals with hidden conditions (or indeed any disability) should not be forced to disclose such conditions, particularly where the condition has no bearing on a role, as stigma is still very much a factor in deciding whether an individual should be recruited or not.
"I have seen a number of cases where an individual's job offer is withdrawn following disclosure of an unseen disability, such as depression, or where disclosure of HIV status has led to a dismissal.
"The purpose of equality legislation is to level the playing field for everyone and in some cases non-disclosure of a condition until after employment is secured is essential for equal treatment.
"In most cases, disclosure of a disability should be the individual decision of an employee at a time that the employee thinks is right.
"It is worth bearing in mind that an employee does need to disclose a disability in order to gain protection under equality legislation as an employer needs knowledge of a disability before it is required to take positive action to make reasonable adjustments."